Exclusive: Sajan Prakash India’s ace swimmer aims at attaining ‘A’ Qualification mark for Tokyo Olympics

Sajan, who hails from Kerala, competes in the men’s relay, freestyle and butterfly events. His favourite event is butterfly, which is also the most difficult stroke. He is the only Indian who competed in 200m butterfly at the 2016 Rio Olympics to finish fourth in the heats and 28th overall. He aims to make the country proud this time.

Sajan also created history by winning Men’s 100m butterfly backstroke at Neo garden Singapore Open last year. He was named Best Male Swimmer of the 2018 National Championships in Trivandrum, India. Apart from sports, Sajan is presently working with Kerala Police department. He’s currently training in Phuket to prepare for the Tokyo Olympic qualifications.

His greatest strength lies in his versatility which has helped him create national records and win medals. Sajan is inspired by his mother, VJ Shantymol, who was an international track and field athlete. Also, he admires his personal coach K Pradeep Kumar, who is a Dronacharya awardee and also the current Indian National Swimming coach. According to Sajan, Pradeep sir is like a godfather to him for he supports him not only in sports but in life too.

Sajan Prakash with his coach K Pradeep Kumar

Sajan had achieved ‘B’ qualification mark in 200m butterfly at the 10th Asian Age Group championship which occurred at the Dravid-Padukone Centre last year. It was one of the qualifying events for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The 26-year-old, who is training in Phuket currently with his personal coach Miguel Lopez, hopes to swim the 200m butterfly in less than 1:56.48s which is the qualification time for the Tokyo Olympics.

Sajan is confident that, if he works on small technique corrections from now to one year to Tokyo 2020, he can definitely achieve OQT. While the likes of Srihari Nataraj, Advait Page, Virdhawal Khade do provide a sense of optimism clocking the Olympic Qualifying Time (OQT), while discussing his dedication and passion for swimming, Sajan talked about his personal life and sporting journey in an exclusive interview with Vishal Sharma.

Here are the excerpts:

Q: You are one of the country’s best Swimmer in the Indian National Swimming Squad. Can you take us through your journey so far?

Sajan Prakash: I started swimming at the age of 5 which means I have been consistently swimming and winning for the last 20 years. Since my mom was a track and field athlete, I had the privilege to open up and explore more towards the sporting area.

Starting from Neyveli from building the foundation strong to moving to Bangalore to train under Mr Pradeep Kumar, where I really see the big change happened with the training and performing and exposed to the international stage. I also still hold a scholarship from Fina to swim under Mr Miguel Lopez in Phuket, Thailand where I learnt and experienced world-class training and techniques.

Q: What sort of struggles have you faced in your sporting career? How did you overcome those situations?

SP: There are many struggles for an athlete. The financial struggle was a major hurdle which almost every athlete goes through. Only if an athlete comes into the limelight, he/she gets the attention and support, whereas many talents in the junior and grass root level disappear because of lack of support system. I survived because of my mother and I was lucky enough to get the best coaches who could understand my situation and helped me achieve my goal.

Q: What were the biggest challenges you faced in your sporting career?

SP: I can relate to the situation right now where I have to qualify for the Olympics, facing a pandemic with not having access to training facilities and the injury. This is one of the most difficult times and challenging situation I am facing right now.

Q: Who is your inspiration and why?

SP: My mother and my coaches who coached me as they showed the real dedication and passion towards their work. Every athlete who shows an outstanding effort in his/her respective sport inspires me the most.

Q: Which of the skills make you apt for sports? How do you become interested in swimming?

SP: I think in any sport you got to be extremely competitive and healthy. Being more athletic proves how good of an athlete you are. I chose swimming after being involved in many other sports and you gotta choose what you want. Being open-minded and building to stronger in the field you are is necessary. Some people swim to represent the national team, some for a job and some for the money. I am past that phase and now I swim for myself.

Q: How do you feel being part of the Indian National Swimming team? For how many years have you been representing India?

SP: I feel proud of myself in representing our country. I have been representing India from 2012 till now.

Q: Any career-threatening big injuries in the past? How did you come out of those? How was the experience?

SP: In 2016, just six months before the Rio Olympics I faced a shoulder injury and 2019 before the world championship I started experiencing a neck pain which aggravated and made me stop completely everything in December 2019. I am still recovering from it.

Q: When did you make your debut at National and International level? Share the memory.

SP: 2003 was my first sub-junior nationals in New Delhi and first senior nationals medal in 2011 (Ranchi) and first international medal in 2015 (ASIAN AGE GROUP CHAMP).

Q: What is your all-time favourite performance? What were the timings and which stroke it was?

SP: 1. Finishing 11th in the world at the FINA SC world champs with 1.53.27.

2. 2018 Senior nationals- where I won all the events when I was not expecting as I did in many events. 200m butterfly in that meet with a 1.57.73.

Sajan Prakash with his assistant coach Alexander Tikhonov

Sajan Prakash with his assistant coach Alexander Tikhonov

Q: What’s your training schedule like? Do you Swim every day? Also, do you have any personal trainer for fitness or Nutritionist?

SP: I swim 10 swim sessions and 4 S&C sessions a week for 5 days with a Sunday off. I do have a personal trainer now Mr Jeeth Deviah where he monitors and sends me workouts from India.

Q: You have created history by winning 100 metres butterfly at Singapore Open competing against some of the best swimmers in the world last year. What’s the strategy and planning behind? How’s the experience?

SP: Singapore Open was one of the qualifier events for the world champs and Olympics. But the 100m butterfly was one of the best races I had. We should understand that a swimmer would have tried a million times on a racing strategy on a specific event and failing many times before he/she goes out and participates. I always had a good base of endurance so eventually an advantage in the back end and good in finishing fast, which I feel I used it there.

Q: For how many years you have been training with your personal coach i.e. Pradeep Kumar, who is also the head coach of the Indian National Swimming Team? Also from Miguel Lopez, who is a FINA-certified coach? How did he help you get better?

SP: Mr Pradeep Kumar is like my godfather, he is the reason where I am today. I always trusted his training and had his support with God’s grace. Mr Miguel Lopez took care of me like his own son and helped me improve in every way possible. He always trusted my decisions as well.

Q: What you would like to say about your coach Dronacharya Awardee Pradeep Kumar? How do you feel training under him? Share the most memorable moment with him?

SP: I look up to him not only as a swimming coach but also I admire his dedication, commitment and passion towards his work. I wish to be like him one day. Going to the Olympics together with him was the most memorable one and the 2015 national games.

Q: You made a record in 2015 by winning 6 gold and 3 Silver medals and created history becoming the best athlete in Kerala National Games. Was your coach Pradeep Kumar’s unique training and your hard work behind it? Share your experience with us?

SP: I completely owe the success to Pradeep Sir and the coaches whos supported at BAC (Mr Rajeev RS, Mr Prakash, Mr Venkatesan V, Mr Ignatius Richard) for the 2015 national games. It was everyone’s support, without that I could not have done it.

Q: You were one of 36 athletes from across the world to receive an International Swimming Federation Scholarship back in 2017. Share the story with us?

SP: I am so lucky, first thanks to the Swimming Federation Of India for the support. It is amazing to train with different people from different countries.

Q: Do you aim at Tokyo Olympics which has been postponed for next year due to COVID-19?

SP: Yes, definitely, we need to see how many qualifier meets are going to be available for us to swim. Only after the calendar is out we can even think about anything.

Q: You finished fourth in Men’s 200m butterfly at Rio Olympics 2016. How you are preparing this time to get featured in top 3 at Tokyo 2020?

SP: I finished 4th in my heats and 28th Overall. I am working wholeheartedly to make my country proud at this Olympics.

Q: No Indian swimmer has ever achieved the A-Mark Olympic Qualifying Time i.e. 22.01 secs. Do you think you will be able to achieve it and optimise the OQT?

SP: I think I can and I am confident. Many swimmers in India also got it for this time. As far as I see myself from now to one year to go to the Olympics. I am confident to do it if I could consistently train for the next one year. I am 1.3 seconds away from the mark in 200 butterfly, which is 1.56.48 and my timing is 1.57.73. I need to work on work small technique corrections if I get that I can do it.

Vishal Sharma is a Delhi based sports journalist. An enthusiast who loves to travel and explore things around. He analyses sports and observes in-depth manner. He is a news and features writer on several online publications. His life is all around sports. Some of his hobbies are blogging, singing, researcher, travelling and meet geeks. He is a Wikipedian too.

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